Thursday, December 16, 2010

So You Want to Be in TV News...

I don't know much about this video, other than the fact that it's brilliant. While the dialogue is most probably fiction, anyone who's dodged the latest Newsroom Barbie or been repeatedly excoriated by some tortured news executive can attest to its veracity. But enough with the SAT words, enjoy the above video and know that you won't even be quizzed later. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to explain to the college senior intern why I don't have a sound guy like he sees in the movies...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pity the Fools...

Ten years ago, a crack unit of camera commandos was sent to prison for a crime they did not commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the local television underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as 'slingers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else shows up, if you can help them find their focus, maybe you can hire... The A/V Team.

ROIGHT!"The Chief" - Reportedly the group's leader, this alleged British expatriate hides behind affability and a pleasing accent. Do not be fooled. He's trained in the art of over-lighting, favors clean head-shots through distant doorways and once choked an intern with his own resumé tape. Not above using nonsensical foreign colloquialisms to impress the lay-dees, he indulges a four dollar a day ice cream habit. Thought to originally be from Iowa.

Jo-Jo in the cup"Joe-Joe" - With his laid-back nature and total recall of Country Music Classics, this Tennessee native draws his victims in by posing as an easy going good ole boy. In fact, he's a video assassin, the group's hopped-up trigger man with legendary edit bay speed, deep knowledge of satellites and barely concealed survivalist leanings. Can kill a man with a single fishing lure or lone tripod screw. Personal friend of Bigfoot.

Weatherly "Puppet Master" - This shadowy figure has been on the agency's radar for decades, as he's been skirting the edges of legitimate news scenes since the Reagan Administration. Known for his mastery of all communication formats, collection of all-terrain vehicles and love of folksy knick-knacks, he's said to hold several on-air personalities under his svengali-like mind grip. A self-trained pilot, he holds a black belt in Shaq-Fu.

Wrenn Dawg"The Siler City Assassin" - Another of the group's rural combatants, this one's especially slippery. Able to frame a spiraling football at a thousand paces, the man sometimes known as 'Wrenn Diddy' is believed to oversee several backwoods sleeper cells. A master of improvised weapons, he can kill a man with a single half-filled spit-cup. Thought to be THE off-air technician responsible for Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.

American Gangsta"Bruisers Two" - Less is known about these two goons than any other members of the camera cabal. At first glance, they're comic relief, but a closer look reveals their collective role as the group's 'muscle'. Dude in Blue never shows his face in public, lest his many victims seek their vengeance. Guy in green once held a packed school bus hostage until a missing 9 volt battery was returned. Approach with extreme caution. And maybe a Pizza Inn coupon.

Frozen Photog"Blowhard" - Perhaps the most despicable member of this unsavory association, this slinger of mud fancies himself a wordsmith. Mostly, he aggrandizes his own sordid history, when not acting as the team's Minister of Disinformation. Not above inflating his own skill-set, this weasel actually believes the lies he writes. Weaknesses include a love of leather jackets and a deep seeded fear of live trucks. Widely considered mentally unsound.

No wonder their plans rarely come together...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

View to a Kill

NBC Cameraman Bob Brown
For all the thought posited upon the tragedy at Jonestown, it's a pity so little has been written about NBC Cameraman Bob Brown. After all, he alone provided irrefutable proof of the madness that first overtook members of the People's Temple in November of 1978. In doing so, he recorded his own death. It was late in the day when Brown and other members of the media covering Congressman Leo Ryan's visit to Guyana tried to fly out of that troubled land. But Jim Jones wouldn't allow it, sending his henchmen to gun down Ryan's group at the Port Kaituma airstrip. Bob Brown's TK-76 was rolling when the gunmen arrived. Witnesses say the 36 year old news vet immediately moved forward, lens up...
"Bob Brown stayed on his feet and kept filming what was happening, even as the attackers advanced on him with their guns. He was incredibly tenacious."
Seconds later, the gunmen cut Bob Brown down, first wounding him from afar before moving in and executing him and others at point blank range. His footage, both of the splintering village itself and the last few seconds of his life, helped a shocked planet grasp the events that led to the mass suicide of 909 Temple members. But who WAS Bob Brown? A cursory search of the internet uncovers few details of the man before the massacre. The most I was able to discover comes from this dated NBC profile of Brown and slain on-air partner Don Harris. It describes Bob Brown as an former local TV reporter turned network photog; a man known for his sense of style and flair for human interest stories.

Bob Brown reportedly expressed concern over the Jonestown trip, but it didn't stop him from showing some Guyanese children the wonders found inside his camera's viewfinder. It's the photo of that encounter that has stuck with me long after I finished 'Raven', Tim Reiterman's exhaustive history of Jim Jones and his doomed followers. The picture shows a man in his prime, bending at the waist to share his everyday view with a child who most certainly has never seen such a thing. That alone makes me want to know more about Bob Brown, a dashing photog from another era who deserves a far better legacy than the flickering images leading up to his violent demise. I'm not sure anyone reading this can help me in this endeavor, but I'll gladly share whatever I learn. Now do me a favor and go hug a cameraman.

Above Photo: NBC Cameraman Bob Brown shows his TV rig to Guyanese children as NBC sound technician Steve Sung looks on. Brown was among the journalists killed by Jonestown members shortly before the mass suicide. (Photo by Ron Javers, San Francisco Chronicle)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Deplete the Fleet!

Blacksburg Sat CityFor some time, management and market forces have conspired to take the crew out of 'news crew'. Now, they've come for our cars. That's right, some local news photogs in the nation's fourteenth largest market will have to drive their OWN vehicles to all those ribbon-cuttings, house fires and county commissioner meetings. The mind boggles. Station-owned news units - those functional, tacky and often odorous automobiles - have been a staple of electronic news-gathering ever since the first affiliate slapped a logo on a driver's side door and tried to pass it of as a 'mobile newsroom'. These days however, every thing you ever knew about local broadcasting is crumbling, er, evolving. Just ask the news shooters at WFLA. Soon they'll be piloting their private rides to exciting news scenes across Greater Tampa - all at a reimbursement rate of 32 cents per mile - well below the federal rate of 51 cents.

Predictably, the depletion of their fleet hasn't set well with the fine photog staff down Florida way (or anyone else with a tripod in their trunk, for that matter). Who might be responsible for insurance liability, what happens when equipment is stolen, and just how long might they have to wait for reimbursement... they're just a few of the unknowns troubling the WFLA photojournalists -- and with good reason! Now, proponents of the plan will point to newspaper photographers, who've been driving their own cars to news scenes since before that soggy lump of fish-wrap you backed over in the driveway this morning lost all relevancy. Have you SEEN a newspaper photog's car? It's not the kind of thing you'd want to cover in rainbow-colored peacocks. Think 'Hoarders: Pimp my Ride Edition'. Or better yet, frequent a few tempests around Tampa in the coming months. Chances are you'll find all kind of half-crippled hoopties slathered in hand-drawn logos and freestyle, rhyming lies. At least if this highly entertaining thread is to be believed...

You know, it's tempting to go with that line of thought, to joke about thirty year old Gremlins stuffed to its ugly gills with high-tech recording equipment worth ten times the P.O.S. it sits in. But, really, there's very little funny about this soon to be standard practice. Company cars have long been an unspoken incentive to this less than lucrative line of work. While (most) managers wouldn't dare encourage a photog to speed en route to a story, they're regularly expected to bend space, time and physical feasibility. It's quite the grind, even behind the wheel of a late-model SUV full of scanners and free gas. Replace that with the beater your pizza delivery guy tools around in and you have one more HUGE reason why this gig ain't what it used to be. Just how station owners will hammer out the details remains to be seen, but one aspect is a foregone conclusion: Other stations will soon follow suit. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of hackery. I just wonder, what's next? Producers bringing in their own TV's to stare at at all day? Assignment editors kicking in for newspaper subscriptions? Anchors doing their own hair?

You're right. That's just crazy talk...